The truth is, I just hadn’t understood enterprise chat tools like Slack, or its subsequent clones (eg Microsoft Teams, Flock, Hike etc). They didn’t seem appreciably different to Whatsapp, iMessage or other P2P communication tools.
While they did appear to solve some of the email and security problems of P2P messaging platforms, they fell woefully short of providing any meaningful structure to conversations, much less any conversational analytics.
“Slack is just an expensive Whataspp,” another friend in manufacturing would always say, confirming I wasn’t the only one who was confused by the value these tools were meant to deliver.
In fact, I eventually only began to understand the benefits of these enterprise chat tools when we started developing software at Unifize.
It quickly became clear that they enable agile processes. They work well for small (“two-pizza”) teams. They are loosely structured information dumps/repositories. They reduce email. They enable rapid collaboration and traceability within small teams. They allow you to own your communication data.
All noble qualities for enterprise communication.
So, surely this addresses all the root causes of communication problems in manufacturing and engineering businesses, and the issues with Whatsapp and iMessage?
If that was the case, wouldn’t we expect to see every manufacturing or engineering company around the world using Slack?
At Unifize, during our interviews of over 50 companies in four countries, we found exactly one architecture firm and one product design company using Slack.
In the first instance, it was because the company needed a communication tool to integrate with Trello for their project management. In the second, the company was making marine hardware and software. Unsurprisingly, it was the (agile) software team that was using Slack. The rest of the company wouldn’t touch it.
To the uninitiated (like some software engineers and venture capitalists), it may appear that the manufacturing and engineering segments are just technological laggards.
Surely, it’s because these industries just don’t “get it”? They’ll come around in a few years, when they see the light…
In fact, manufacturing and non-software engineering businesses depend on incremental process improvements for their survival.
For this reason, it was manufacturers that pioneered business process tools (eg ERP) and management concepts (eg Lean) that drive the world today.
So why aren’t these companies flocking to Slack [terrible pun intended] and others to solve their communication problems?